December 26, 2013
Early on in this week’s Sedra, we come across a famous but difficult Rashi.
9. Moses spoke thus to the children of Israel, but they did not hearken to Moses because of [their] shortness of breath and because of [their] hard labor. ט. וַיְדַבֵּר משֶׁה כֵּן אֶל בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וְלֹא שָׁמְעוּ אֶל משֶׁה מִקֹּצֶר רוּחַ וּמֵעֲבֹדָה קָשָׁה:
11. “Come, speak to Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, and he will let the children of Israel out of his land.” יא. בֹּא דַבֵּר אֶל פַּרְעֹה מֶלֶךְ מִצְרָיִם וִישַׁלַּח אֶת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל מֵאַרְצוֹ:
12. But Moses spoke before the Lord, saying, “Behold, the children of Israel did not hearken to me. How then will Pharaoh hearken to me, seeing that I am of closed lips?” יב. וַיְדַבֵּר משֶׁה לִפְנֵי יְהֹוָה לֵאמֹר הֵן בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל לֹא שָׁמְעוּ אֵלַי וְאֵיךְ יִשְׁמָעֵנִי פַרְעֹה וַאֲנִי עֲרַל שְׂפָתָיִם:
To which Rashi comments:
How then will Pharaoh hearken to me: This is one of the ten kal vachomer inferences ( a fortiori arguments) mentioned in the Torah. — [from Gen. Rabbah 92:7] [I.e., inferences from major to minor, such as in this case. I.e., if the children of Israel did not listen to me, Pharaoh will surely not listen to me.]
All the supra-commentators on Rashi struggle with this. The Torah tells us explicitly why the Jews did not listen to Moshe – from shortness of breath and from hard labour. They were worked so hard that they literally did not have time to breath let alone listen to some soothsayer.
But Pharoah. He was lying on his couch having grapes peeled for him. How could Moshe infer from the fact that the Jews did not listen that neither would Pharoah. Bear in mind that Moshe had diplomatic status and was frequently ushered in to see Pharoah.
The Mizrachi, the Maharal etc etc all struggle but the simple answer once again is to be found in the Maskil LeDavid. ( Oh, how I love that little book!)
The answer, he says, is to be found in last week’s Sedra. You remember the first time that Moshe came to the Jewish people with the good news.
29. So Moses and Aaron went, and they assembled all the elders of the children of Israel. כט. וַיֵּלֶךְ משֶׁה וְאַהֲרֹן וַיַּאַסְפוּ אֶת כָּל זִקְנֵי בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל:
30. And Aaron spoke all the words that the Lord had spoken to Moses, and he performed the signs before the eyes of the people. ל. וַיְדַבֵּר אַהֲרֹן אֵת כָּל הַדְּבָרִים אֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר יְהֹוָה אֶל משֶׁה וַיַּעַשׂ הָאֹתֹת לְעֵינֵי הָעָם:
31. And the people BELIEVED, and they heard that the Lord had remembered the children of Israel, and they kneeled and prostrated themselves. לא. וַיַּאֲמֵן הָעָם וַיִּשְׁמְעוּ כִּי פָקַד יְהֹוָה אֶת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וְכִי רָאָה אֶת עָנְיָם וַיִּקְּדוּ וַיִּשְׁתַּחֲווּ:
They did listen. They did believe. They were happy and excited. But since Moshe & Aharon went to Pharoah ( the first time) the situation got worse.
This is the basis of Rashi’s kal vachomer. ( A fortiori argument). The Jews who DID believe at first now do NOT believe so how is Pharoah expected to believe.
The Maskil LeDavid on Rashi is brilliant in its simplicity.
The message is clear. If your own people don’t believe in your message how can you expect anyone else to believe in it?!
Rabbi Meir Wise